Major enterprises are doing everything they can to minimize the effects of COVID-19 on their operations. The global rollout of working from home (WFH) has been a stress test for their business continuity planning (BCP). Stay-at-home orders have caused businesses to fundamentally rethink their policies and plans.
No one could have planned for a virus that created a whole new designation of eras: pre-lockdown and post-lockdown. Even for well-prepared operations that conducted periodic drills to test contingency plans, the current situation has revealed more questions than answers. Load sharing across multiple locations is not possible when almost a third of the world has shut down.
The focus has shifted to enabling necessary technologies for a seamless transition to WFH at all of their sites, all at once.
Workforce agility through technology
Even as businesses reopen globally, many have settled into a remote working rhythm. And rather than descend into utter confusion, they have embraced the WFH model by leveraging effective communication and collaboration technologies.
Indeed, in the new order post-COVID-19 world, technology will continue to be at the heart of every process. The benefits of virtualization and centralized approaches will remain essential. When the dust settles, businesses will take a hard look at all the models and activities that are no longer pertinent. Leadership teams will then have to lay down the groundwork for a shift in organizational culture before programs can be canceled, redacted, or integrated into their BCP efforts.
Making WFH stick
COVID-19 has ushered in a unique set of market and HR challenges, including a disruptive impact on day-to-day employee experience. Traditionally, businesses have prepared for business continuity by focusing on obtaining laptops and infosec waivers. For the first time, however, our customers report the need to address the way their employees behave and feel outside the office.
Organizational culture plays a critical role as companies pivot to a reimagined work environment. One way to build a positive culture is to humanize the processes. This means making sure employees are comfortable in their new work environments and fostering a sense of community. Assembling a WFH kit, an emergency response team, and employee assistance programs is only half the job.
The new normal includes building an employee-centric work culture — one in which everyone takes care of each other. As this pandemic has shown, indefinite periods of working remotely affect not only productivity but employees’ overall wellbeing. At a time when work-life balance is giving way to work-life integration, organizations need to ensure that their employees feel cared for and supported.
Remote working is not for everyone — some people are thriving in it and some are struggling to cope. Human connection and camaraderie are more integral to business continuity than ever. Frequent communications and group bonding activities can establish trust, and are emerging as powerful tools to reduce stress and help teams achieve more. Companies can improve WFH by setting up virtual events and activities, offering tips for effective WFH, and developing learning programs so employees may come out of this with a new skill.
Employee experience ≥ customer experience
The link between employee experience and customer experience has become undeniable — a united organization with highly satisfied employees extends to customer experience and ultimately, brand reputation. Addressing worthwhile employee concerns related to working remotely can increase employee engagement and foster an inclusive culture. A united organization will have a positive impact on customer sentiment and ultimately, brand reputation.
Communication for consistency
There is a strong need for consistency in large and diverse organizations. Business continuity frameworks need to standardize processes, delineate roles, and set expectations at the outset so the organization is represented by one unified voice. No matter how thorough their business continuity strategies, they will fail at the first hurdle in the absence of a layered communication plan.
In times of uncertainty, it is better to err on the side of over-communication.
Employee communications are effective when they are consistent, transparent, and simple so people remember them and use them. Frequent validation exercises will further improve employee readiness and ensure smooth activation and execution of business continuity.
The new normal?
While WFH has been an option for a long time now, its success on a global scale has many in favor of maintaining the practice moving forward.
Before permanently reforming workplace arrangements, organizations have to develop long-term solutions in preparation for new WFH-related problems. For instance, a spike in cyberattacks will be inevitable with the newfound dependence on technology.
Meanwhile, the blurring of work-life boundaries and an increase in mental health struggles due to isolation require inclusive health and wellness policies. No doubt, the behaviors and culture that businesses establish now will shape their WFH processes in the long term.
It’s anybody’s guess when things will go back to normal, or if they ever will. Until there is greater clarity around the new normal, employees will have to be empowered to work together, apart for possibly long, uncertain periods. With the world hurtling towards a reimagined workplace, WFH is definitely here to stay.
Employees are finding ways to remain highly productive despite all the distractions. But this balancing act is tenuous at best. To sustain long-term success, organizations need to develop employee-focused business continuity plans that will allow them to adapt and collaborate, even in uncertain times.
Jimmy Mills is Vice President of Sales for RRD Global Outsourcing.